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Maiden Voyage Battleship Potemkin
Matt Calvert and Jan Bang in rehearsals. Photo by Opera North
A new soundtrack for the classic 1925 Soviet film Battleship Potemkin is to receive its world première in the Howard Assembly Room at Opera North on Saturday 18 November.

Commissioned by Opera North Projects to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the score is written and performed by Norwegian producer, composer and electronic musician Jan Bang – the linchpin of Opera North’s Humber Bridge sound walk earlier this year – and Matt Calvert of London avant-rockers Three Trapped Tigers.

Battleship Potemkin is an account of the 1905 naval mutiny during which the crew of a Russian Imperial Navy vessel rose up against their officers. Although it was commissioned as a propaganda vehicle to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the unrest, the film became a testbed for director Sergei Eisenstein’s groundbreaking montage techniques, achieved with quick, rhythmic cutting between shots to tell a story or provoke a reaction from the audience.

Almost a century on, Battleship Potemkin still makes for a mesmerising watch, and is regularly voted the greatest film of all time by critics and directors. The famous sequence featuring a pram bouncing down the Odessa Steps has been quoted in countless other films including Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather and Brian De Palma's The Untouchables. Recognising the potential of image and sound combined, Eisenstein himself hoped that the score would be rewritten every twenty years to renew the film’s power for subsequent generations.

Jan and Matt’s collaboration, for guitars, electronics and found sounds, acknowledges the period and setting of the film with grainy timbres, mechanical clanks and trailing echoes, but with its surging, visceral electronics and live manipulation it is also resolutely contemporary, finding new ways to heighten the impact of Eisenstein’s iconic visuals.

Musician and producer Matt Calvert comments:

“I think our approach has prioritised sound and texture over melodies and harmony, almost as if to blur foley and music at times. Rather than approach each scene with a particular musical ‘script’ in mind, we have tried to devise a series of suitable ‘worlds’ which we can explore with improvisation, to keep some freshness and excitement, and to emphasise the sense of tension in the film.

“I’m happy to challenge myself and adapt my process to Jan’s, which I’ve long been a fan of: feeding him sonic material to sample, working more with a sense of momentum than fixed pulses and finding the beauty in combinations of sound as much as in melodies.”

Jan Bang, producer and musician, comments:

“We haven’t scored the film in the traditional sense; our soundtrack is based on the idea of improvisation, and remaining open to all of the possibilities that the different scenes have to offer. Matt has been an exceptionally generous collaborator, and developing the score together – without any artistic limitations – has been a true joy. Hopefully some of that energy will transfer to the audience when we perform it.”

Earlier this year Jan was the lead collaborator on The Height of the Reeds, Opera North’s commission for Hull UK City of Culture 2017. A sound walk for the Humber Bridge that wove the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North together with trumpeter Arve Henriksen, guitarist Eivind Aarset and the music of the bridge itself, The Height of the Reeds was a critical and popular success, with every slot sold out over its three month duration.

Jan Bang and Matt Calvert perform their new soundtrack for Battleship Potemkin at the Howard Assembly Room at Opera North, Leeds on Saturday 18 November. Tickets are priced at £15.00 (concessions available), and can be booked by contacting Box Office on 0844 848 2727., or visiting howardassemblyroom.co.uk

Maiden Voyage Battleship Potemkin, 6th November 2017, 8:42 AM